Will English die out?

Kirk   Fri Aug 05, 2005 8:54 pm GMT
<<eventually everyone is going to be speaking pretty much the same English.>>

And how do you justify this comment while scholarly linguistic research has shown that English dialects are diverging, not growing more alike?

<<I know that linguists prefer the spoken language over the written, which makes sense because most langauges are exclusively oral.>>

That's not why linguists study spoken language. The reason linguists study the spoken language (absolutely regardless of whether or not the language has a written counterpart) is that it *is* the language, and the abstract written representation of the language is not.
D   Sat Aug 06, 2005 12:06 am GMT
>>The reason linguists study the spoken language (absolutely regardless of whether or not the language has a written counterpart) is that it *is* the language, and the abstract written representation of the language is not. <<

I don't doubt you, but can you justify that some? Braille, for example, is a language which is only written. Are you claiming that latin is no longer a langauge because it is no longer spoken? I am just looking for the rationale that allows you to completely discount the written language when the vast majority of speakers are literate and read often.
Kirk   Sat Aug 06, 2005 12:44 am GMT
<<I don't doubt you, but can you justify that some? Braille, for example, is a language which is only written.>>

Braille is not a language but a writing system used for blind people to be able to understand written language in a form they can access. For example, if you're blind and your native language is English, you may use Braille to read a written text in English. Braille is no more a language than the English alphabet is.

<<Are you claiming that latin is no longer a langauge because it is no longer spoken?>>

(Classical) Latin is no longer a living language as no one speaks it natively. The same may be said of Old English or Old Japanese, for example.

<<I am just looking for the rationale that allows you to completely discount the written language when the vast majority of speakers are literate and read often.>>

Any serious analysis of a language considers first and foremost the spoken language, as it is by definition, *the* language. Written representations of language are not good tools to use in the domain we're talking about--language change. This is also nothing new--linguistics has long favored analysis of the spoken language whenever possible, especially in reference to changes that are going on in language now, which are rarely (if ever) noted in written language. Written language remains fairly constant and changes much more slowly (or at least the characteristics of language recorded by written language, which are comparatively few, do).
D   Sat Aug 06, 2005 1:05 am GMT
I understand that linguists consider the spoken language to be superior to the written one. But as far as I can tell this is just an assumption that they make; I have never heard a convincing explanation except that most languages have no written form.

To say that the spoken language is *by definition* the language just reveals the bias of linguists towards the spoken language. It doesn't explain why that bias is valid in the case of English or Latin.
Both of these languages have rich, standard written forms that are themselves worthy of study. In Latin, there is only the written form since the language has no native speakers. But Latin is still a language, isn't it?

>> Written representations of language are not good tools to use in the domain we're talking about--language change. <<

This is certainly true if you want to be able to claim that English is changing quickly. But if you want to claim that Americans and Brits will be able to communicate for years to come, pointing out the written language seems like a good argument. That was the point I made in an earlier post.
greg   Sat Aug 06, 2005 5:25 am GMT
La réflexion de D est d'autant plus pertinente que, dans le cas de l'anglais écrit, la formation de la phénotypie actuelle est la conséquence directe de son utilisation en parallèle avec l'ancien & moyen français et le latin médiéval.

Le haut moyen-anglais écrit (par opposition au moyen-anglais tardif écrit) a quasiment disparu pendant plusieurs siècles pour réapparaître sous une forme largement francisée et latinisée. C'est cette forme écrite renouvelée qui s'est imposée face à l'idiome exclusivement germanique parlé par le peuple anglo-saxon.

Ainsi, le vieil-anglais oral populaire ne comportait pratiquement aucun mot français et très peu d'origine latine. Aujourd'hui la proportion est à passée à 30 %. Certes il y avait des francophones maternels & non-maternels dans les Îles britanniques : quoique minoritaires en nombre, ils ont malgré tout contribué à changer la physionomie de l'anglais parlé. Mais l'afflux de mots français et latin a continué après la disparition de la francophonie outre-manchaise.
Rick Johnson   Sat Aug 06, 2005 10:29 am GMT
Here's an example of how dialects have begun to die out over the last 50 years in Britain. It's an extract from Melvin Bragg's book (a well known British TV presenter) and describes how he used to speak as a child growing up in Cumbria, England:

(So I would say "Aah's gaan yem." "Gaan," or "gan" or "gangan," meaning to go, was an Anglo-Saxon word also known to the Vikings. "Yem" means home in Scandinavian. In Old Norse it is "heim." I would "laik in t beck." "Leika" is an Old Norse word for "play"; "bekkr" a word for "stream." I would "axe for breed." "Axe" is from the Anglo-Saxon "acsian," "breed" is northern but Anglo-Saxon in origin, meaning bread. I would say "nowt" (nothing) and "owt" (anything) from the Anglian words "nawiht" and "awiht." I would climb a "yek" (oak) tree to get a "yebby" (stick). "Claggy" was sticky, and like "clarty" (muddy), it most likely comes from Scandinavian. I wore "claes" (clothes), Anglo-Saxon, and as a "lad" (Anglo-Saxon) I would "loup" (Old Norse) "ower a yat or yet" (a gate— northern pronunciation) or "gawp" (stare) at a "brock" (Celtic, badger). And "yen" will always be one.)

Today he speaks standard English. Kids today growing up in the same area would not understand many of these words, but would understand American coined words such as commute, suburban, SUV, motherboard, hard disk etc.
Gjones2   Sat Aug 06, 2005 7:53 pm GMT
>To say that the spoken language is *by definition* the language just reveals the bias of linguists towards the spoken language. [D]

Yes, that's a value judgment, which I don't feel obliged to accept. Though I have my own spoken dialect (one of the Southern US dialects), it's the written language that allows me to communicate on this forum with persons from the UK and from around the world. Also I'm not an automaton that must follow linguistic trends in a blind and powerless way. I consciously keep my spoken dialect close to the written standard.

Linguists can't assume that small changes will continue at the same rate and in the same direction once those changes start to cause major problems in communicating. There's great pressure from society as a whole to speak a dialect that's comprehensible to others and fairly close to the written language. Those who don't -- and especially those who can't -- are ridiculed by other speakers of the language. The more they diverge from the academic standard (usually close to the written standard, whether in the UK, USA, or even non-English-speaking countries) the more trouble they'll have doing well in school, getting a good job, or being successful in many other kinds of endeavors.

Along with this pressure to conform there's an ever-increasing exposure to other English dialects on both the national and international level. Here in the United States I rarely go a day without watching a British situation comedy, and I've listened to the South African Cliff Drysdale comment on tennis for years (and also to many Australian commentators). To a greater and greater degree we all belong to a single large speech community.

It's interesting that despite these forces that draw us together, linguists have found some trends towards divergence. I don't expect them to continue far enough, though, to split the language into unintelligible dialects. If Cliff Drysdale, for instance, couldn't be understood in the United States, he'd lose his job. A little difference adds variety and is usually perceived as a good thing. Major differences cause serious problems, and evoke reactions that tend to suppress them. This has to be taken into account when trying to predict future developments.
Travis   Mon Aug 08, 2005 4:38 am GMT
First thing, yes, some dialects are presently threatened, such as some northern English dialects, as mentioned, as well as things like southern coastal island dialects here in the US. At least in the latter case, the disappearance of such dialects is less a matter of any kind of pressure to conform as much as simply loss of speakers via population movement. However, this does not pertain to large scale dialect divergence across the board, on a timescale most likely measured in hundreds of years, and that is likely more important with respect to language speciation in the long term than small conservative pockets that retain features which are not widespread throughout the language as a whole are. Small changes over time on a large scale, such as the adoption of a new modal system in speech in most of NAE, are more important than such pockets in the long run. Just because individual changes affecting a large range of dialects may not seem like much unto themselves, over a range of a few hundred years, they can make a significant difference, enough so to enable language speciation on such a timescale.

Second of all, I'm not sure about said supposed pressure to conform, as around here, I really have not noticed any of the such. For starters, one cannot equate variation *across registers* with such, especially in circumstances like that here, where informal speech or an intermediate form between informal and formal speech is used rather than formal speech proper a significant majority of the time. At least here, there is no pressure towards favoring "standard", that is, formal forms, but rather what forms are used are simply a function of context and what one is trying to express. For example, in everyday speech I may favor the pronunciation /SmIr/ -> [SmI:r\] of "smear" (which one may write as "schmier", due to being etymologically related to German "schmieren", possibly via Yiddish), whereas when reading I would probably favor the native pronunciation /smIr/ -> [smI:r\]. It is not that there is some pressure to use "standard" forms that somehow only applies during speech, but rather simply that both forms coexist with each other in speech in the dialect here, the use of which varies solely on the basis of what register is in use. Of course, part of this is that I happen to basically speak the same dialect as most other people here, AAVE aside, and furthermore, informal speech is strongly favored for most purposes here, be one at home, school, work, or wherever. Actually, the only cases where I have had any real significant impetus at all to specifically use very formal speech is either when trying to be very polite, whatever the reason for such may be, or when speaking to non-native English-speakers, in particular foreign students at the university which I go to, who may be tripped up by the phonology of the dialect here or by some alternate pronunciations of various words which are often used in informal speech.
stanley.wu   Mon Aug 08, 2005 5:05 am GMT
i think so,agree with u
Travis   Mon Aug 08, 2005 8:24 am GMT
That should be "that somehow only applies during certain kinds of speech, such as reading," above in my previous post.
Dani   Wed Aug 10, 2005 9:08 am GMT
Hi guys, just to say that I guess English won't die out for a long time, regardless the economic and political power English speaking countries will have in the next future. The main reason, from my viewpoint, is that it's quite a relatively easy language to learn and elastic enough to favor a mutual comprehension among speakers. Could you ever imagine Chinese, for instance, becoming the international language?

The Swede   Wed Aug 10, 2005 9:24 am GMT
Dani, yes I can imagine that Chinese some day will be the main international language, but I don´t think, and I´m quite sure that English will survive for a ridiculous long time.
Adam   Mon Aug 15, 2005 6:30 pm GMT
According to this article, there is no danger of English dying out. But there is a danger that French could die out -

By Eleanor Beardsley | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

PARIS – You still aren't likely to get a Parisian waiter's respect if your accent isn't complètement parfait. But even a gauche monolingual American will feel right at home these days in a French boardroom.

In a recent survey of 26 of France's largest companies, 16 gave English as their official working language - including Renault, Danone, and Aventis. Of these, nine have dropped French altogether. Seven put English and French on equal footing.

To some here, the trend is a slap in the face. After all, this is a country known for its linguistic pride, and one whose government outlaws advertising in English, and mandates a 40 percent quota of French songs on the radio.

But even the staunchest Gaullists now recognize the need to equip citizens with the tools to compete in a globalized economy.

According to the study by the French branch of Educational Testing Services, a private, nonprofit educational-testing organization, English is increasingly the "lingua franca" of French business.

The report says not being able to speak English today is the equivalent of not knowing how to read or write 50 years ago.

"If you want to do business outside France, you have to speak English," says Eric DeLisy, whose company distributes industrial and chemical products across Europe. Mr. DeLisy says his 16 employees don't necessarily have to speak it well, but they must be able to read and write at a basic level in order to correspond with clients.

"Now just to hire a receptionist, even they've got to speak English and that makes them more expensive to hire," he says.

On a recent afternoon, DeLisy was taking a break on the sprawling campus of Hautes Études de Commerce (HEC), one of France's top business schools, where he is working on an executive MBA. His class is composed of other executives like himself, from all walks of French business. And most speak three languages.

At schools like HEC, the demand for English-speaking managers is having a profound effect.

"Ten years ago having an all-French program and teaching in French was a matter of principle, an offensive for promoting the French language," says Jean-Marc de Leersnyder, professor and associate dean of HEC's executive MBA program. "But that's a thing of the past. Even our French students now expect classes in English."

And because HEC competes with schools in Britain and the US to lure international students, many of its programs are now taught entirely in English.

"We have to convince Chinese and other Asian applicants that they can come to study in France and that speaking French is not an issue," says Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of HEC.

The tilt toward English is not manifested just in MBA programs. A recent government proposal to overhaul the national education system recommended that mandatory English classes begin as early as first grade, with a second foreign language to follow later.

Of course, not all French institutions are embracing the trend. Last year, labor unions at General Electric Medical Systems in France challenged in court the company's English-only manuals. They won under a French law that mandates all foreign terms used in the workplace be translated into French.

It's courriel, not e-mail

In Paris, on the left bank of the Seine sits the gold-domed Académie française, the venerable institution founded in 1635 to preserve the purity of the French language. The Académie publishes a dictionary of the French language and works with "terminology commissions" in each government ministry to come up with a French equivalent for every new Anglo-Saxon term.

Académie spokesman Laurent Personne says the institution's work today is not so much about fighting English as guarding against the "impoverishment" of the French language.

"In a globalized world we have to work to maintain the richness of different languages and cultures," he says.

"We're not here to rename golf terms," he says. Mr. Personne points to recent successes, such as the words ordinateur and courriel, which replaced the English words for "computer" and "e-mail," and are now a part of mainstream French vocabulary. "The Germans are still saying kohmputer," he notes.

Banish 'shampooing'

Back at the HEC campus, MBA candidate André Schwab is heading to class. Mr. Schwab is CEO of the French post office, known as La Poste. While he reckons French mailmen won't have to speak English any time soon, he says English is crucial to the consulting and international divisions of La Poste. "In the past we were unable to send consulting delegations abroad because we didn't have enough people who spoke English," he laments.

But Schwab says he doesn't see anything wrong with protecting a language. "It's important for people to speak a full language, otherwise it creates two sets of citizens - those who are skilled enough to understand the new phrases and those who are not."

Personally, Scwhab says he dislikes English words ending in "ing" that are now so prevalent in the French language, such as "shampooing" and "marketing."

"They don't lend well to the French ear," he says. But the all-time worst is "sourcing," he says. Schwab makes a point of using the official French replacement, appartition.

"My employees don't know what I'm talking about when I say it," he laughs. "But if you don't try, it will never catch on."

www.csmonitor.com . . .
English speaking Damian   Mon Aug 15, 2005 8:37 pm GMT
As long as English lasts for the next 60/70 or if I'm lucky (or unlucky...who the **** wants to be that old!) 80 years I personally wouldn't worry too much.....but it would be a shame wouldn't it if English snuffed it one day. I can't image everyone in the pub or in Tescos speaking any other Language to be honest....how would I order a pint of Tennents except in English? I know they do in Glasgow but that's a different ball game anyway.

Once I'm deid and gone I won't give a toss if Chinese or some other New World Lingo takes over over here or wherever. Nah...it'll never happen.....English will still be around...even if it's 100% Estuaryised by then even in Auchtermuchty or downtown Killiecrankie.
Sander   Mon Aug 15, 2005 8:43 pm GMT
<Sander thinks Damian can be very depressing>